It may seem unusual to see Novak Djokovic's name in a doubles draw, but there's many benefits to playing doubles and the world No. 1 knows it. He and Fabio Fognini lost a tight 7-6 (5), 2-6, 10-6 semifinal to Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo on Friday. Kubot and Melo will play Horacio Zeballos and Nikola Mektic in the final on Saturday.
Though the 31-year-old Djokovic needs to carefully manage his schedule, he has made time for the Indian Wells doubles tournament five times since 2011. Teaming up with Fognini, Djokovic made his first ATP Masters 1000 doubles semifinal at the BNP Paribas Open and was seeking his first career doubles final at this level.
"I think in the last 10 years we have seen a great improvement and transformation of the doubles on the tour in a positive way," Djokovic said. "The tournaments are respecting doubles players more and encouraging top singles players to play doubles more. So that's good. That's positive. We need doubles, for sure."
Djokovic has won just one doubles crown in his career, Queen's Club in 2010, and reached one other final, in Adelaide in 2007. With his early exit in singles to Philipp Kohlschreiber on Tuesday, extra practice and some doubles fun is just what the Serbian needed. He took the court with Fognini for their quarterfinal less than two hours after his 6-4, 6-4 loss to the German.
"As a professional, I feel responsible and kind of obliged, regardless of the result in singles if I'm part of the doubles, to play," Djokovic said. "And out of respect for my partner, as well, who lost a couple of days ago in singles and he's still here."
Fognini lost his opener on Sunday, but is regarded as a skilled doubles champion with five titles and nine finalist appearances, and a career-high ranking of No. 7 achieved in 2015.
While it might serve Djokovic better to have gone to Miami to get used to the new Hard Rock Stadium, it doesn't hurt to get some extra matches in: Djokovic didn't play a match between winning the Australian Open and Indian wells.
It's also always important to have a little fun at work, even if he's two decades deep into his career.
"It's been a lot of fun playing doubles with Fognini this week," Djokovic said. "I thought that the crowd is fantastic. They get into it. Fabio is definitely collecting a lot of fans this week. Deservedly so. He's very funny."
Getting on the doubles court can sharpen a ton of skills for a singles player, no matter how many Slams he has won. He can fine-tune his serve and return placement, practice his net game, work on his reaction time and manage his emotions and mental game with a partner by his side as extra support.
"Miami is the next tournament singles-wise for me," Djokovic said. "Plenty of time until my first singles match [in Miami]. Things to work on, without a doubt. I'm not at my highest level. I know that. But slowly building, and hopefully I'll be able to peak in Miami."